The Simon Heng column: A service user’s view of social care

I was due to attend a meeting at the local NHS acute trust to discuss its staff disability awareness training programme. When we arrived, the traffic system was in meltdown: even the ambulances were in a jam, and every parking space was taken, including all the disabled bays. As far as I could tell, none of the vehicles was displaying a blue badge: accessible parking is, clearly, fair game – a good example of why the trust needs effective disability awareness training. Needless to say, I missed the meeting.

I wanted to challenge their training strategy, which is to parade a selection of individuals with different disabilities to talk about their impairments and needs. This perpetuates the medical model of disability, dehumanising the individual, continuing the myth that classification is the key – even in a patient-led NHS.

The worst thing about hospitals is that the staff do not listen to disabled people properly. A friend with cerebral palsy, which severely affects his speech, can be understood with a little concentration. Doctors inevitably talk over his head to his carers about his symptoms.

Colleagues with learning difficulties, who are capable of answering clear, straightforward questions, get angry because they feel that they are often treated like children.

Friends with mental health difficulties are often accused of imagining their physical illnesses.

I get the impression that many people working in hospitals – excluding the specialists who deal with disabilities every day – do not trust most of their disabled patients. As an in-patient, when asking for help, the response has often been “can’t you do that for yourself?”. Well, no. If I could, I wouldn’t have asked you.

Hospital staff need to trust disabled people to be experts in their own conditions and that we want to be as independent as possible.

And this is what I fear about the proposed amalgamation of health and social services: if the lead is taken by health with its current culture, disabled patients in particular will be objectified and marginalised, leading us to suffer even poorer health.

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